Christian authors Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz believe more skeptics might be willing to search for the truth if only some Christians would get out of the way. In I'm Fine With God . . . It's Christians I Can't Stand: Getting Past the Religious Garbage in the Search for Spiritual Truth, Bickel and Jantz (who are also co-authors of the Christianity 101 series) express their frustration with how Christianity has become entangled in side issues such as politics, science, "judgmentalism" and more. These issues, they argue convincingly (and with more than a touch of humor), are harmful to Christians and nonbelievers alike, and have little basis in Scripture. Just as Christ didn't hold back when confronting the hypocritical legalists, Bickel and Jantz don't hold back either. They pull no punches, excoriating everyone from proponents of the "prosperity gospel" to Christian media that tries to cover abysmal artistic efforts under a faith-friendly veneer. Bickel and Jantz challenge believers to return to the true fundamentals of the faith—love for God, love for others and a life that mirrors the compassionate, forgiving spirit of Christ. Their book isn't likely to win friends among dogmatists. But as a call to Christians to make their actions reflect the true character of Christ, I'm Fine With God . . . is a fine book.
In the beginning
In What Jesus Meant and What Paul Meant, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Garry Wills brought a historian's eye to Christianity's most important figures – the Messiah on whom the faith is built, and the saint who wrote most of the New Testament. In What the Gospels Meant, Wills trains that scholarly eye on the gospels – who wrote them, when they were written and why. Wills is no slave to tradition; he is more than ready to question whether the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are really the work of their assigned namesakes, and whether certain passages were inserted by later editors. But at the same time, he is no self-appointed skeptic out to cast aside the whole if one account differs from another. Instead, Wills shows how the four gospels are the results of independent writers with varied though harmonious goals, each highlighting aspects of Christ's life, death and resurrection to emphasize specific themes important to the faith.
As with his earlier books, Wills' scholarship in What the Gospels Meant is impeccable, placing the gospels within their original cultural and religious context. That scholarship is rounded out by Wills' exceptional writing skills, creating a book that offers profound spiritual and historical insight in an accessible and intriguing format.
Thinking things through
Where Garry Wills primarily writes for the thoughtful believer, Timothy Keller writes for the thoughtful skeptic. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is an answer to the recent polemics from atheist authors such as Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Samuel Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation), though it is hardly in the same vein. This is no reactionary screed, but a thoughtful, probing and erudite examination of the Christian faith.
Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, answers skeptics with understanding, compassion and compelling logic. He deftly refutes the arguments of Hitchens et. al, revealing their underlying fallacies, while encouraging the reader to examine his or her own assumptions for similar false premises. Yet throughout The Reason for God, Keller never resorts to smugness or presents his views as necessarily infallible – a refreshing approach in a world so often divided by unfounded claims of certainty.
The publisher compares Keller to the great Christian writer and thinker C.S. Lewis; the comparison is apt. Like Lewis, Keller offers clarity of thought in an engaging, readable style. And like Lewis, Keller calls readers – believers and skeptics alike – to an active examination of their own motivations, purpose and faith. The believer will find as much to challenge his understanding of God as will the skeptic – and both will leave the book the richer for it.
After years of skepticism, Jon Spayde came to Christianity because of alcohol. Left with no will of his own to combat his desire for liquor, Spayde turned his will over to a higher power – and in the process, discovered Christ. This life change led Spayde to talk with Christians from across the spectrum of the faith, to learn how each had come to relate to God. How to Believe: Teachers and Seekers Show the Way to a Modern, Life-Changing Faith offers interviews with ordinary (and not so ordinary) Christians – including retired bishops, hospice workers, ministers, former executives and others who have found or are seeking the path to religion. Some are on the very fringes of the faith; some are solidly in its traditional center. All have varied understandings of Christ and His meaning to the believer.
Spayde is a gifted writer and interviewer, with an openness that allows him to approach disparate believers whom more traditional Christian writers might have ignored. No reader will likely end up agreeing with every person who shared their thoughts with Spayde. But the insight into the diversity of faith is worth a look, and the result is a challenge to consider the meaning of your own faith – a challenge worthy of the Easter season.